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September 2014

Leading Thoughts

The Real Impact of Leadership

By Alesia Latson

William James, the famed American philosopher and psychologist, once said, "When two people meet there are really six people present. There is each person as they see themselves, each person as the other person sees them, and each person as they really are." As a leader, how do you see yourself? Even more important, how do the people you lead see you?

Your Impact on Others

Every action and interaction leaves a lasting impact on others. Leaders can have the best of intentions, but if the impact isn't aligned with the intention, the leadership may not be as effective as possible. Why? Because in the end, what matters is not who you think you are, but the experience that other people have with you.

You can realize that you do not need to care what people think; however, you must care about the effect you have on others, on an organization and an industry. Your impact leaves a lasting mark. What mark do you want to leave in the world?

To ensure that you have a positive impact and are viewed as a leader who others want to follow, take the following steps.

1) Detail the Desired Impact

Most leaders have never detailed their personal creed but doing so can be powerful. Be clear about who you are and what you stand for. What do you value? What is your personal creed or stance in the roles that are most important to you? How do you want to be known in the company and industry?

Once those questions are answered, ask the most important question of all: How do the things you just detailed show up when you are frustrated or when things are not going well? Who are you then? It is easy to be all of those positive things when everything is going well. But what about when things are not going well? How do you want to show up during the hard times? How do you want to be known when things are tough? How do you want people to experience you in the midst of adversity?

Many leaders lose credibility when things are bad because they have not thought about who they are in those situations and the kind of impact they will have.

2) Discover How Others View Your Impact

You can gather information about your impact in two ways: Ask for feedback indirectly or directly. An indirect approach is using an online, anonymous survey. While it is simple, the results are not always specific.

A direct approach is to talk face-to-face with someone whom you trust and ask specific questions. The secret to making direct questions work is to phrase them properly. If asking, "Can you give me feedback on my leadership style?" the response might not produce the information needed. It is a difficult question for most people because it is not focused, and no one wants to hurt another person's feelings. Additionally, if not prepared for the question, a person may feel s/he is being put on the spot.

So, ask a more focused question, such as, "During today's meeting, I think I may have sounded defensive when I told Chris that the idea would never work. How did it land for you? What was your experience being in that meeting?" This question does not ask for an evaluation. It points out a specific incident or behavior and asks a person about his/her personal experience during that moment the impact you had. This does not guarantee that the person is going to be truthful, but it creates a condition where s/he is more likely to be open.

3) Change Your Impact, Not Yourself

If feedback results do not align with your perceptions about yourself, it is time to make some changes not to you, but to your impact. First, become curious about the mismatch, not furious about the information. A good question to ask is, "Under what conditions might a person experience me this way?" This validates not that you agree with the feedback, but that it is a legitimate perception. Here is the truth: A leader might be motivating, empowering and uplifting, but under certain conditions, even the most esteemed person can come across as harsh, cold and defensive. So, be mindful of the conditions that can hinder success. Knowing personal blind spots can shed some light on them.

With this new knowledge, you can take steps to consciously alter the impact you have on others. If one approach is not producing wanted results, what other approach can be tried? No matter what approach, you are still the same person, just doing certain things in a different way to have a more positive impact. As long as the new approach supports your values and what you deem important, then you are acting with integrity and in alignment with personal goals.

Get Real

All leaders leave a lasting impact. What is yours? Is it the legacy you want? When you can align who you think you are with how others perceive you, you will be a leader people naturally gravitate toward, and your enduring mark on the world will be a positive one.

Alesia Latson is a speaker, trainer, coach and founder of Latson Leadership Group, a consulting firm specializing in management and leadership development. Contact her at alesia@latsonleadershipgroup.com or visit www.latsonleadershipgroup.com.

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